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Trip Report - Comparison between BA and US transatlantic & shorthaul

Trip Report - Comparison between BA and US transatlantic & shorthaul

Old Sep 19, 05, 9:35 am
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Join Date: Mar 2003
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Programs: UA 1K 1MMer & LT UC (when flying UA); Hyatt Credit Cardist; HHonors Gold; Marriott Gold via UA 1K
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Trip Report - Comparison between BA and US transatlantic & shorthaul

Warning: This is a long post. I also posted a similar trip report inside a separate thread I started on the BA forum, but I don't consider this a cross-post, since the contents in this post are geared more toward US flyers, but moderators please feel free to close the thread if you feel it violates FT T&C's.

I took my first non-US or UA transatlantic flight in business class (BA Club World) for the first time in 4 years. I flew BA LAX-LHR-HAM. Even though flying out of Tom Bradley Int'l terminal at LAX is somewhat of a drag, at least I knew what to expect lounge-wise, thanks to FT! The snacks were comparable to what you find at a U.S. Red Carpet Club, which is what I am used to, but the free drinks was definitely a plus. US Clubs and RCC's are definitely much nicer than the business class and alliance lounge offerings at TBIT. Not sure what the F lounges at TBIT are like, however. I haven't been to the US Envoy lounge, but I'm sure it's a million times nicer than any of the lounges at TBIT.

I headed over to the gate a few minutes early, and as I was waiting to board, I caught a glimpse of Bruce Willis slipping through a private door to the side of the gate, with an escort. I figured he must have been on our flight, and this hunch was confirmed shortly prior to landing, when I saw him slip into the F bathrooms after they opened the curtain separating F from J. I was hoping he'd come back into J to chat us up, but no such luck.

The flight itself was great. I found the seats to be more comfortable than Envoy on the 330, with the possible exception of Row 1, which I've never experienced. They have lie-flat beds in J, and the seats are separated by privacy dividers, so I really felt like I had my own private piece of real estate, with my very own overhead bin. For those of you who may not be aware, BA had recently experienced a catering meltdown at LHR, thanks to our friend Dave Siegel and his Gate Gourmet. Catering has slowly been returning to normal, but it's still not there yet - especially on the shorthauls. I have been following the "catering problems update thread" on the BA forum, and let me tell you, US at its best is probably not even as good as BA at its worst! Luckily, the catering on longhaul flights is now pretty much back to normal. I was very happy with the service, but I still think the late, great US salad cart beats BA's current salad "presentation."
The amenity kits were the nicest I have ever received. They're fastened with velcro, and have a loop at the top so you can open it and hang it from a bathroom hook. They contain the usualy bottles of mouthwash, hand lotion, toothpaste, and lipbalm (from the Molton Brown spa), as well as earplugs, socks, an eye mask and a toothbrush. However, the presentation is much classier than even the old Envoy amenity kits, and I'm sure the quality of the products in the kit are better, as well.

The IFE was not as good as US's A330 IFE. No AVOD. We got PTV's with about 18 channels, and the programming ran on two cycles. US's A330 definitely wins hands down in this area.

We landed about 20 minutes early and I had a 4.5 hour layover, so I decided to take advantage of the arrivals lounge, and really enjoyed my refreshing shower and hot buffet breakfast. I had never bothered to visit an Arrivals lounge before, so I can't compare BA's product to US's arrivals lounge at LGW. And thanks to detailed instructions on the BA forum, I knew that there was a fast security line accessible through the First/Club World check-in area. Then I headed over to the Terraces lounge in T-1, where the first thing I saw upon arrival was a cooler stashed with...deli boxes. There was also a sign posted at the check-in desk to grab a box as you leave, since hot meal service still has not returned to short-haul service. There was a sign next to the cooler stating that the deli boxes should be consumed within four hours - another key to their apparent freshness.

The Terraces Lounge in T-1 was pretty crowded, but it's also very big, and there was more than enough space to spread out. I was surprised at how busy it was for a Sunday. They also had free high speed internet kiosks. No free wifi, but at least I was able to access my e-mail and FlyerTalk through the kiosks. The facilities in both lounges put the US clubs and RCC's to shame. In addition to a large assortment of snacks and finger foods, there was a huge self-serve bar with every form of alcohol imaginable (except Maker's Mark and our old friend Finlandia), and it was all free! There was also a small playroom for the kiddies, and an upstairs section for "adults only" (meaning no kids allowed). The Terraces lounge is ultra-modern -- very W Hotel-ish. I like the classic, understated look of the US Clubs better, but the Terraces lounge is a much better lounge overall, so I'd definitely give it a much higher rating than the nices of the US Clubs, with the caveat that I have never been to the club or Envoy Lounge in A-West.

I grabbed a deli box on my way out to catch my connecting flight to HAM. By that time they had 2 choices available: the "brunch" box, which didn't look too appetizing, and the "afternoon tea" box, which looked a bit more palatable. I chose the afternoon tea box. It was not bad. It contained a small fruit bowl, 3 finger sandwiches, 2 small scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam, and a cake thing which was really nasty. The contents were much fresher than the IFC boxes, which always looked and tasted like they were a day old. When we finally boarded, I was a bit surprised that although I was in Club Europe (BA's equivalent to domestic first class), the aisle and window seats on the DEF side of the plane were not widened (so nobody could sit in the middle seat) as they were on the ABC side. According to a poster on the BA forum, they only widen the seats on the A-C side, and "E" seats can be filled if the flight is full. The flight was full, so there was somebody in the middle seat next to me. My flight was filled with people going to the same conference, and I ended up knowing some people on my flight. I didn't mind having to sit in what really amounted to Y, because it was a short flight, and the woman across the aisle was also attending the conference, so we chatted most of the flight. Club Europe on our A319 was made up of the first 7 rows. I couldn't tell how many inches of legroom were in Club Europe, but somebody on the BA forum said it was 34 inches (vs. 31 inches in Euro Traveler (Y). I could tell that it was definitely less than in F on a 737. I forgot to check to see if there were power ports! (I'll try to remember to check on my return flight. The catering service on the shorthauls has not yet returned to normal. (Thanks, Dave.) In Club Europe they only served coffee, tea, or water, with a pack of biscuits. I presume they served the same in Y. The purser apologized afterwards for the catering problems. Upon arrival in HAM, one of the first things I saw was a Gate Gourmet cart. (Hi, Dave!) Conclusion about Club Europe vs. US domestic short-haul F: US and its better legroom, wider seats, nobody in the middle no matter what side of the plane you're on, and snack basket wins hands down. However, since I did not have a "true" Club Europe experience, it's possible that Club Europe inflight service would trump US domestic F shorthaul service under normal catering circumstances, since I believe I would have received a hot meal if it hadn't been for our old pal Dave and his latest screw-up.

The bags took forever to unload, and they baggage carousel moved very slowly. I discovered that the priority tag on BA flights holds no more meaning than priority tags on Star Alliance flights, since my bags were among the last to come off the plane.

So my conclusion is that I'm really happy I flew BA, and for a change was able to sample what a classy transatlantic business class product is like. Club Europe, however, was a big disappointment due to the surprise middle seater next to me, and the catering fiasco. Had I been traveling on my own dime, I would have flown Envoy through PHL & Frankfurt, and connected to HAM in Y. But since my company was footing the bill and had a say in my travel arrangements, I'm very, very glad that they did not put me on the Lufthansa flight, which is what they were originally going to do (until they found a fare sale on BA). Lufthansa had some sort of a baggage meltdown in MUC yesterday, and all of my colleagues who flew in on Lufthansa still have not received their luggage! The Flyertalk gods must have been watching out for me, and the PHL demons must have found their way to MUC!!! Will I switch to One World because of this? Not at this time, because it doesn't fit my travel patterns as well as *A. But if any of you are thinking of making the switch, I hope you found this trip report informational.
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